Cornwall police launch e-interrogations

The Cornwall Police Department is one of the first in Canada to implement a digital interview room based on technology from Acrodex Inc.

Shows like CSI and 24 feature high-tech facilities where criminals are arrested, interrogated, and locked up within an hour.

But the reality is some aspects of police procedure are lagging behind the technological curve. Many police squads in Canada still use VHS tapes to capture and document interrogation sessions.

“VHS has gone by way of the dinosaur,” Norm Boucher, information systems manager for the Cornwall Police, said. “We were having difficulty finding VHS tapes and when we did, they were both costly and difficult to store.”

This is where Acrodex has stepped in to create the FTR Interrogator 4.1, a digital interview room designed to save time, money, and resources for police departments.

“The FTR provides users with a single interface from which they can control recording and take fully-indexed and searchable case notes,” Peter Owsiany, general manager of Acrodex, said.

“This allows the officer to focus on the interview and not worry about the technology.”

Previous incarnations of the FTR are already in use with the RCMP. The costs and storage of more than 700 VHS tapes a year led Cornwall to look at alternatives.

“We are required to retain these VHS records for years, even with cases that never reach court,” Boucher said. “Having the interviews automatically stored on a network drive helps us manage the data effectively, without costing a bundle.”

The FTR ranges from $6,000 to $8,000 per interview room, and includes desktop, FTR software, webcams and microphones. Boucher estimates the solution is far cheaper than VHS recording, and a third of the cost of Digital Video Recording.

Owsiany said he feels that because of its similarity, DVR is not a viable alternative to VHS recording.

“The DVR solution is no different than a VHS tape, it’s just on another media,” Owsiany said.

“It doesn’t allow you to manage content as effectively as the FTR and still requires lots of fast-forward and rewinding.”

Only months after having the system installed, Cornwall Police have high praise for the FTR for its ease-of-use and portability.

“While we have some officers that are very computer literate, there are others that can be slightly intimidated with the use of technology,” Boucher said. “As far as the end-user is concerned, you just double-click on the red dot to start and stop the recording process. It can’t be any simpler.”

Owsiany said ease of use was of paramount importance when creating the FTR Interrogator.

“You can have one interviewee in a room and have several inspectors or investigators viewing the interview from their desktop as opposed to sitting in a small little closet-like room, starring at a monitor,” Owsiany said. “This gives them the freedom the interview from there desk if they wish and conduct there work.”

The FTR also features annotation. This means when an officer is conducting an interview and comes across a statement he or she thinks is of key importance, they can make a note which gets time-stamped to the actual video frame of the comment.

“This will save time later in the case as I can simply do a search for particular statement and be taken right to the appropriate video frame,” Owsiany said.

Besides the advantages seen in police departments, Owsiany believes the FTR, if implemented at more police departments, will also save taxpayer money and may actually work to speed up the entire court system.

“In all cases that are forwarded to the Crown, they receive a VHS tape containing interrogation interviews ranging from one-hour to as long as twelve hours,” Owsiany said.

“The limitations of VHS meant the court had to spent time fast-forwarding and rewinding through hours of tape.”

By contrast, he said, the FTR allows officers to cut segments of the interview, copy it, and burn it to DVD, allowing the Crown to spend their time watching only the most important aspects of interview.

With the success Cornwall has had with the FTR, Boucher predicts the FTR will be a popular law enforcement tool in the near future.

“Recently, I’ve had inquires from at least three Eastern Ontario police services, so I wouldn’t be surprised if the FTR appears at more police stations really soon.”

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